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US Company Launches First Private Mission to the Moon

In this image made from NASA video, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket with Astrobotic Technology's lander onboard is launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, Monday, Jan 8, 2024. (NASA via AP)
In this image made from NASA video, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket with Astrobotic Technology's lander onboard is launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, Monday, Jan 8, 2024. (NASA via AP)
US Company Launches First Private Mission to the Moon
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An American company successfully launched a mission Monday to explore the moon. The launch of a robotic lander marked the first time a private space vehicle has been sent to the lunar surface.

However, the company reported a serious fuel leak about seven hours after the launch. The 1.9-meter-tall lander, called Peregrine, launched at 07:18 UTC from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The spacecraft was built by Astrobotic Technology, a company based in the eastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It was carried into space on a Vulcan Centaur rocket. The rocket was built by American space launch company, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Earlier, Astrobotic chief executive John Thornton said if all goes as planned, Peregrine will attempt to land on the moon February 23.

However, Astrobotic said in a statement it is currently assessing possible changes to the mission to see what might be possible. If the fuel issue is serious, it “threatens the ability of the spacecraft to soft land on the moon,” the company said.

Astrobotic said in a press release Peregrine is loaded with 20 research experiments involving seven different countries. It is equipped to collect data on radiation and materials found on the moon’s surface.

The lander also carried a small robotic explorer and other materials. These included a physical bitcoin, a piece of rock from Mount Everest and the ash remains of famous space lovers Gene Roddenberry and Arthur C. Clarke. Roddenberry was creator of the popular science fiction television show Star Trek and Clarke was a science fiction writer.

The Navajo Nation recently sought to have the launch delayed because of the inclusion of the remains. The head of the Native American group called the sending of remains a “desecration” because Native Americans consider the moon a sacred space.

In a message on X, formerly Twitter, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said, “The suggestion of transforming (the mission) into a resting place for human remains is deeply disturbing and unacceptable to our people and many other tribal nations.”

Astrobotic’s Thornton answered the criticism by saying the Navajo’s Nation’s objections came too late to reach an agreement on the issue. But he promised to try to find “a good path forward” with the Navajo Nation for future missions.

So far, only four nations have successfully landed spacecraft on the moon: the United States, China, the Soviet Union and India. The last time the United States landed on the moon was in 1972 with its Apollo 17 mission.

NASA is currently moving ahead with its Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon.

Astrobotic is trying to be the first private business to successfully land on the moon in an effort to support the Artemis Program. But The Associated Press reports another space company’s lander might beat Peregrine to the lunar surface.

This is because that lander, called Nova-C, is set to take a more direct path to the moon. It plans to launch next month on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Nova-C was built by Texas-based space company Intuitive Machines. The company also plans to send the lander to the moon for another mission later this year.

Private companies from Japan and Israel tried in the past to land spacecraft on the moon, but those attempts failed.

Japan’s space agency will attempt another moon landing in mid-January. The agency, JAXA, launched the SLIM spacecraft on its way to the moon in September. SLIM’s goal is to test the possibility that spacecraft can land on very specific targets.

Another Astrobotic lander, called Griffin, is set to launch to the moon’s south pole in late 2024. It will be carrying an exploring robot, or rover, called VIPER. VIPER is designed to search for water sources on the moon.

All the private space missions were developed through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The program aims to turn over the country’s major missions to private companies in an effort to operate at reduced costs.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press and NASA reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

mission – n. to do something considered very difficult or impossible

joint venture –n. a new business activity involving two or more businesses that aim to combine their resources

desecrate – v. to damage or show a lack of respect toward something holy or highly respected

sacred – adj. relating to religion or considered to be holy

transform –v. to change something from one form to another

disturbing – adj. making you feel worried or upset